Using Different Tactics and Going Mobile for Ducks with Billy Blakely
Author’s Note: “I hunt every single day of duck season,” says Billy Blakely, chief guide at Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville, Tennessee, located between three waterfowl refuges and only a short distance from the Mississippi River, one of the premier duck-hunting regions in the U.S. “I’ll guide 80+ days per year for ducks.” When Blakely takes a party of duck hunters out to Reelfoot Lake for a day of hunting, he often carries 4-10 hunters at one time plus a dog, guns, ammunition and food. Blakely usually will carry his party about 2 miles before they set up to hunt. That 2 miles of the lake includes stumps, shallow water, deep water, brush and ice. If he is hunting from his permanent blind, he pulls his boat into a covered slip.
The better you can hide from the ducks, the more ducks you’ll be able to take, so we use a camouflaged boat and boat blind. Remember the ducks have seen every type of blind and decoy made and heard every duck call that’s ever been manufactured. If ducks could talk, they probably would tell you which manufacturer made the duck call you’re blowing. Now, at the beginning of duck season, I start out with a large decoy spread. I still use a big decoy spread at the end of the season, but it won’t be nearly as large as the one I’ve used at the beginning of the season. Also, I start moving the decoys around within my spread about every second day.
We hunt in our permanent blinds every day of duck season. If I don’t change the decoys around about every second day, the ducks get accustomed to seeing the same spread and won’t come in to where we wait. By simply moving decoys and making the spread look different every other day, I can attract more ducks. I also alter the number of MOJO spinning-wing duck decoys I use. During the early season, I’ll use 10 spinning-wing decoys, but at the end of the season, I’ll only use two. I’ll place those two on the outside edges of my decoy spread. Early in the season, we take a lot of young ducks, but toward the end of the season, we take older ducks. So, instead of having 10 spinning-wing decoys in front of the blind, I’ll only use two on the edges of the blind.
The spinning-wing decoy will get the ducks’ attention, but instead of landing where they see the spinning-wing decoys in the ends of the decoy spread, the ducks generally will drop to the middle of the spread where there are no spinning-wing decoys. The spinning-wing decoys each will be about 60 yards from my blind. Although I usually start out the year with more than 1,000 decoys, at the end of the season, I’ll probably only have 500 decoys out. I like the Greenhead Gear decoys, because they look more realistic than other decoys do. By the time the ducks get close enough to tell that the decoys aren’t real ducks, we can take them.
As I’ve mentioned, we primarily hunt out of stationary blinds at Blue Bank. But at the end of waterfowl season, the other guides and I become much more mobile and will use our War Eagle boats with their shallow drafts to jump logs, run across mud flats and get into places where the ducks are landing, instead of hunting out of our traditional blinds. We’ll only take 2 dozen decoys and go to those roosting areas, put the decoys out and wait on the ducks. Many times we’ll have to beat and bang our way through cypress trees to reach the spots the ducks are using. Finding the best places to duck hunt is like trying to identify the best spot to set-up a hamburger joint. The success of both the hamburger joint and the duck hunt are dependent on location. A pop-up blind mounted on a boat allows us to get into those hard-to-reach places, put up a blind quickly and be in the spots where the ducks want to be before daylight. I use binoculars late in the evening to search for places where the ducks will roost, which tells me where I need to be the next morning. Then you can go where the ducks go, and many times hunt where other hunters can’t hunt. Although we prefer to hunt out of our stationary blinds because they’re far more comfortable and our hunters have more room, the hunters who come to Reelfoot come to take ducks, not to sit in blinds. So, we use our boats to get our hunters to where the ducks are located.
This article is part of a series on winter duck hunting. Click here to go back to part three, covering why you should talk loudly and have a lot of decoys on a duck hunt. Click here for part five, on crossing points and breaking.